Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Choosing The Right Caregiving Option When You're Away

Whether you're a seasoned corporate traveler or a confirmed homebody, as a pet owner there'll likely come a day when you face an issue common to all. What to do with your pals when you leave home? Like many other things in life, there's no right" answer to this question. The option you choose will depend on what's best for you and your pet.

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In-home or Animal Inn:
Not surprisingly, choices for your pets boil down to leaving them home alone or placing them with someone else. Some pets think that kennels are a camp and you wouldn't want to take that experience away from them, says Kay Calzolari of Pet Sitters International (PSI). While others are happiest and less stressed at home surrounded by their familiar sights, smells and sounds.

And, while most professional pet sitters serve as a crime deterrent by opening and closing drapes, turning on and off lights or retrieving the mail and newspaper, this may not be a plus for you. "It really depends on your comfort level with having someone in your home," notes Ryan Dryden of the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters (NAPPS). Conversely, not every pet thrives at a boarding kennel. "Some animals adapt better to a pet sitting environment," says Jim Krack of the American Boarding Kennels Association (ABKA). "That's why more and more kennels are offering both pet sitting and boarding services.

Analyze Your Pet:
How do you decide between outplacement and in-home services? First, take an objective look at your pet. Does your pet shred up your toilet paper, rummage in your cabinets or leave a puddle on the days you work late? Does he or she display territorial aggression toward even your closest friends? When alone for extended periods, does he or she fill your apartment with haunting cries? Pets displaying any of these or other disruptive behaviors may be best in the safe, secure setting a kennel provides. On the other hand, if your pet is nervous outside your home, refuses to eat when you're out or becomes despondent and lethargic if you leave him or her at a friend's or neighbor's home for short periods, then the comfort and familiarity of regular turf may be the answer.

The Acid Test:
But, what if you're uncertain or none of these scenarios seems to apply? Only a test drive will tell you for sure. Plan to select a pet sitter or kennel well in advance of your trip. For tips on the pet sitters, check out the NAPPS or PSI web sites. For kennels, see the ABKA. Then, set up a dry run. For an in-home trial, arrange an overnight stay at a friends house for yourself. To make the simulation real, pack up the bag you'll be using to travel and arrange to stay away as long as possible.

During your absence, have your pet sitter observe your companion's behavior closely and take written notes on everything from play activities to appearance of waste materials. Even if all appears normal to an observer, you may detect signs of stress. Use a similar scenario for a boarding kennel, except this time make your pal's preparations as realistic as your own. If you'll be using your kennel's pick-up service, be sure to include it in your experiment. Then, just as with a pet sitter, have your kennel keep a detailed record of your pet's actions.

What About the Guy Next Door?:
No matter which caregiving scenario seems best, avoid the pitfalls of enlisting the aid of a friend, neighbor or relative. Instead, stick with the professionals.
First and foremost it's a professional's job to focus on your pet and your wishes, points out Dryden. For acquaintances, your pet is only one of a myriad of concerns.

In the case of a pet sitter, this means adhering to your behavioral standards to ensure your pet doesn't develop unwelcome habits, such as jumping on people or lounging on your new couch. Perhaps more importantly, professional pet sitters have appropriate strategies to cover the unexpected.

For example, what happens if your acquaintance is called away on a family emergency or comes down with the flu. A professional sitter already has a reliable contingency plan in place for such cases. The same holds true for taking your pet to stay elsewhere. A boarding kennel is a safe, secure, sanitary and professionally-supervised environment," says Krack.

The Great Debate:
As you're investigating which option's right for you, one of the issues you'll run into is the argument over which location, in-home or kennel, presents the greatest health hazard. Kennel advocates say unattended pets left at home can get into household chemicals or harm themselves on other objects, such as the jagged edge of a broken ceramic houseplant pot. Pet sitting proponents counter that kenneled companions are exposed to illnesses and parasites carried by other animals.

Of course there's really no way to protect your pet from every possible catastrophe, just as there's no way to protect yourself from a freak accident. If you opt for boarding, ensure your pet gets the required immunizations and the kennel you select follows the sanitation practices recommended by the ABKA. If a pet sitter is your choice, scrutinize your home from your pet's perspective and remove or lock up anything that might become a lethal toy.

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Have a Great Trip:

By evaluating what's best for your pet and following the advice of professionals, you can expect your absence will be a happy, healthy experience for your loved ones. Remember that one size doesn't fit all, so take whatever time you need to review the options and pick what's right for your pets. Then pack your gear, hug your pals goodbye and enjoy your trip.

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